The Art of Tightening Your Throat?

The Art of Tightening Your Throat? Here are some solutions to vocal tension that involve your whole life: body mind and spirit –Says Tom Burke

Whenever I encounter a vocal problem such as tension, I look for solutions on three levels: mind, body and spirit.

The Mind Solution

Most often, tension stems from our thoughts. Any time we are in flight or fight mode, we are going to close up our throats. These mental states happen when we let our thinking get out of control.


Tension stems from our thoughts – making our heart race, our stomach churn and our throat close up

If you walk into an audition with the axiom “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” running through your head, you are almost certainly going to clamp up.

You are raising the stakes of the situation. Your Vagus nerve will become hyperactive, your heart rate elevates, you get a sick stomach and you close up your throat.

If your thoughts are getting away from you, try to play a new track in your head. Walk into that same audition thinking, “I am actively nurturing a relationship with this casting director.”

This way, you will be more able to show up as your fully open self – with a more relaxed throat and present state of mind.

The Body Solution

The throat mirrors other sphincters in the body, unfortunately. This means if you squeeze your butt, your pelvic floor, or if the alignment of your body is simply out of whack – your throat will close up too.

Anytime there is something problematic going on in another part of your body, it will likely affect the throat.

Strive to keep your body balanced, relaxed, and tension-free

This means that it is not enough to focus on keeping your throat relaxed. You must instead consider your whole body, striving to keep it balanced, relaxed, and tension-free.

One way to free the voice is to contemplate laughing, peeing and farting. Funny right?

Well, step one is that laughing opens your throat. Aside from that, the same mechanism of sphincter control which allows you to increase the stream of pee or fart silently will also open your throat. Try it! And yes, keep laughing.

The Spirit Solution

The third area I look to, when trying to find the source of tension, is the spirit. I also call this the “sense of purpose” part of our lives.

A sense of purpose can help you feel more confident and relaxed. For example, you might decide your purpose for a certain song is to be a medium through which the writer or composer can communicate their story to the audience.


A sense of purpose can help you feel more confident and relaxed

A purpose like this takes some of the emotional burden off you. By thinking this way, you actually lighten your load as a performer – it is not all about you.
Intention is everything. If you know that you are meant to live this crazy life as a musician or artist, relax into the ride.

I do believe that the universe is conspiring to help you. You may not be able to see it right now. Don’t let things that feel like rejections (gigs or auditions gone wrong) throw you.

Set clear intentions about your work. Stay on course. Commit to your unique, artistic vision and the universe will fill in the rest.

Putting it All Together

So, keeping these three areas in mind, here are three questions to ask yourself to reduce throat tension:

  1. How can I change the story that is running through my head from something negative to something positive?
  2. How can I help my whole body (sphincters too) stay relaxed?
  3. Why am I singing this…playing this…DOING this anyway?

My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Avishek Choudhury Avishek Choudhury - Scenes and Scenarios

Hi Avishek. I really liked the chord progression and the melody of this song. I wasn’t able to clearly discern the words and as a result I missed a lot of the text. However, I could tell that you were connected to the story which is paramount for giving a great performance. Consider the importance of visuals when filming these for YouTube: sound, lighting, background, closeups, etc. all matter in telling the story through song.

Tom Burke BioTom Burke is a speech-pathologist and voice coach for Broadway, Film, TV and Google. He developed the world’s first online vocal conservatory, Broadway VoiceBox with members in over 19 countries and growing fast. Find out more about his work here:

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  • Dave Toole

    So very very true. Tom are you an Estill coach?? I’ve been studying under Kim Steinhauer for several months now and this resonates with a discussion we had in our Level 1 course.

  • Leah Ifft

    Thank you so much! I tell this to my students all of the time. I also remind myself of it, on a regular basis.